The State of the Beacosystem

When Google announced the Eddystone beacon protocol in the summer of 2015 the idea that the digital and physical worlds could be linked by broadcasting a URL from a small, inexpensive, Bluetooth low energy wireless beacon caused great excitement and launched numerous start-ups. The initial use cases were largely around retail, with large stores and shopping malls introducing discounts and loyalty programs that visitors could receive on their (Android) Smartphones.

Google was understandably obsessed with delivering passive messages, with users having to opt in to avoid spammy notifications popping up on phones just because they got close to a beacon. And this is where things got bogged down. Two years down the road those of us on the sidelines and those with skin in the game have become frustrated that the vision hasn’t arrived, particularly for those who’ve persuaded prospects to sit for demos that don’t work. Some of the early players have gone under, others have merged or sold and the use cases that are rolling out are in areas like asset tracking versus advertising.

The situation might cause one to forget that since Apple introduced the iBeacon protocol in 2013 beacons have worked perfectly well when tied to apps. And Eddystone has that ability in addition to the URL broadcast capability. Beacons work well with apps because users choose to install apps and to give them various permissions, including recognizing specific beacon broadcasts when in range. But the promise of Eddystone was “no app required”, a powerful potential yet to be realized.

What is the future for beacons? Steve Stadler thinks he knows. In June of 2013 Steve published “Beacon Technologies: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Beacosystem”. Researching for the book he interviewed a host of key players and released the content in a series of videos. Today, he is S.V.P of Wiliot, a semiconductor company working to perfect batteryless beacons, drawing their energy from the radio waves that surround us virtually everywhere. In an interview with the company’s video producer, and former Cisco colleague, Steve lays out his vision for the future of the beacosystem.

  • Beacons in the Enterprise
  • Beacons Everywhere
  • Beacons in Everything
  • Beacons in Advertising
Within the first nine minutes of the interview, Steve identifies and expands upon these four predictions, the second and third born of miniaturization and currently developing batteryless hardware, a focus of Wiliot, which sponsors his podcasts. He goes on to identify what he believes is holding back speedier adoption in those areas.  Why don't I let him tell it?

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NFC Tags Explained

Two years ago I began buying Bluetooth Beacon starter kits, excited by the promise of a Physical Web, a way to explore the world around us by choosing to receive nearby content on our smartphones, coming from small, inexpensive Bluetooth radio transmitters, or Beacons. This week I received my first order to NFC tags, programmable sticks and key rings that virtually any Smartphone can "read" with the same native NFC capability that makes Apple and Android Pay work. The sticker versions are made of sturdy PVC, nearly the thickness of a credit card, with a sticky backing you can use on anything but metal, at least in the case of the "Whiztags" product I purchased from Amazon. Using an app called NFC Tools one may "write" to a sticker, choosing from a laundry list of content from phone numbers to social media links, SMS messages, text lists (what's in this box I packed six months ago?) and so on. Once you select an option and add the related content you simply bring your phone close to a tag and bingo, it's ready to present that content to any Smartphone brought close to it with NFC enabled. Visit Whiztags, an Aussie startup selling quality product from sample kits to bulk (and custom) tags for suggestions on how to use NFC tags. Download the NFC Tools app for Android. If you're an iPhone user you'll have to wait a while for an app to write to your tags, but you can read an NFC tag as long as you have it enabled.

Formulating Content for the Physical Web

The Physical Web is a Google initiative making possible the linking of places, things and people with web content. It involves two pieces of hardware, a small device called a beacon and a variety of smart devices able to receive Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio emissions. Set a beacon to broadcast a URL (a web address) and enable the smart device to receive and understand the message being broadcast. My personal collection of Eddystone BLE beacons has reached around two dozen units from four manufacturers. I have set each to broadcast a unique URL and some I change occasionally with a specific demo prospect in mind. I have lately been thinking about BIAs as prospects for several reasons, including: • a membership heavy on sidewalk merchants and service providers, and • the potential to “rent” a beacon network to brands, events and retailers, to name a few likely advertisers. I thought to link a prospect BIA’s website to a beacon and include it in the demo. It displayed properly on my smartphone but something about that created an itch that needed scratching. As often happens to me, the answer presented itself in the middle of the night. In some number of cases the content developed to appear in a successful search is quite different from the content an owner would want to present through a discovery on the Physical Web. Proximity and Context bia_discovery600Take the BIA for example. A web search in Google or otherwise would likely come from a member, a prospective member or a local resident. The content presented would be useful to each, whether a membership directory, information on fees and services or upcoming events within the boundaries of the Improvement Area. But if I’m standing on the sidewalk, pull down my notification shade and see a link to the BIA site, what do I hope to see? Probably a menu that presents categories like “Food and Drink”, “Groceries”, “Shopping”, “Special Events”, “Theatres” and so on. I’d want to be able to select one and drill down to select Italian or Pub or Thai and I’d want a map or directions to each. I might want the link to open with a “You Are Here” spot, easy to do when the beacon I’ve discovered is in a fixed location. BIA management would, or should, see an opportunity here to sell membership based on inclusion in the discovery, and perhaps even banner ads or feature coverage, whether sold or offered on some rotation to interested members. I have used the word “discovery” more than once and perhaps an explanation is called for. Google’s approach to revealing Physical Web content intends it to be a passive experience, one the device user requests as opposed to having a phone vibrate or emit a tone. So you discover Physical Web content by swiping a screen to look for it. It is obvious in the image above that links discovered on the Physical Web appear very much like those in a search results page. When we use existing content the discovery includes the same text (metadata) a search presents. It’s not helpful to someone standing on the sidewalk. A further advantage to custom content for the Physical Web is the ability to write the metadata you would want the visitor to see. I know of a couple of third parties whose online dashboards provide a canvas for creating “cards” where words and increasingly images may be married to a link. This solution provides the opportunity to increase the likelihood of a visitor engaging with your content over some other beacon’s message. The “Now” Factor The only people who will see content on the Physical Web are those close enough to a beacon to receive its broadcast. So, by definition, most of the content presented should be relevant to here and now. That is of course why so much early content came in the form of a coupon or other offer to be used or taken up now. A useful feature of the Bluetooth beacon is the ability to set “working hours”. If a beacon is advertising a free cookie with a large coffee it shouldn’t be doing so when the coffee shop is closed. If an offer is good until four pm it should disappear at 4:01. The Physical Web has a unique advantage over every other form of marketing messaging I can think of in that the content available from any given beacon may be changed in seconds without touching the device. And with the right supplier, you don’t need a developer in the loop. Conclusion There is nothing inherently wrong with starting a beacon campaign with existing web content. Any positive message discoverable by nearby prospects beats silence. But the most effective messaging will result from giving thought to delivering the best possible experience. That isn’t always a deal. A new beacon user could do worse than to consider extending the reach of popular social media content to the beacon platform. Once a candidate for beacon messaging understands the opportunity, appropriate messages suggest themselves and the more time you spend in the space the more you see and can evaluate the merit of other user’s choices. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Eddystone Beacon Starter Kits

My quest continues for hands-on experience with Eddystone Bluetooth Smart beacons. So, I recently ordered starter kits from two of the highest profile manufacturers – Estimote and Kontakt.io. Each contained three beacons and each landed in Toronto at about CDN$120. Estimote The Estimote Development kit I received included three beacons, a small sticky card with coloured bits under a clear plastic sheet (use remains unknown), a baby business card from a co-founder and on the back side of the book cover-like box top, advice that the beacons were already turned on and that I should download the app to move on. In brief, I connected via the app with each beacon in turn, changing the URL assigned to one of my choosing and fiddling with the ad interval and signal strength settings. The settings screens presented in the app are very similar to those produced in my Sensoro beacons using the Sensoro app. It may be of interest to note that while each manufacturer’s app will find all Eddystone beacons in the space, settings can only be changed “in the family”. Trying to alter settings on an Estimote beacon with a Sensoro app will invite a password request, preventing most troublemakers from changing the URL you selected. I visited the cloud panel or dashboard where each beacon appeared with some settings information, including the goo.gl-shortened URLs each is broadcasting. To be clear, I shortened my selected URLs at goo.gl. It is possible that the app might have done that for me. I didn’t test that. EstimoteCloud800 I quickly discovered no way to alter the URL from the dashboard, so wrote Estimote about it and was told that, no, this kit didn’t contain beacons with that ability. That was the other kit at just under twice the price. Nothing I read about either kit before placing my order hinted at that particular difference. It isn’t of great consequence to me because I did not specifically buy this or any other kit with a large installation in mind. I just wanted the experience offered by each from set up to discovery on my phone. Chrome for Android will discover none of these because I did not choose secure URLs (https). The Physical Web app sees them clearly. Before moving on to Kontakt I want to mention two points of comparison between my Estimote beacons and those I received from BKONConnect in Nashville, TN, the only supplier of the three located in North America. That is one of two reasons for their hardware being considerably less expensive to land. The BKON product was not “turned on” when shipped. With each beacon the kit included two AAA batteries and a screwdriver for removing the back panel to install the batteries. As their founder pointed out in a tweet, installing the batteries yourself is the only way to ensure fresh, full battery life. The second point of difference is that the Estimote beacons in this kit cannot be set without physical contact. The BKON (and Kontakt) beacons can. Visit my congratulatory tweet to BKONConnect after receiving their kit. Kontakt Their kit includes three beacons and a card with what they call an Order ID taped to a white space on the printed card, obviously a simple way to use the same card for every kit shipped. The card includes a link to get started. It went nowhere. Not having been born yesterday I navigated my way to a page that did work and opened an account. Meanwhile, I downloaded their app, from my desktop to my phone. Then I searched for directions on how to activate my beacons. Step One. Enter your Order ID. Step Two. Select “Add Devices”. When I made that selection I was advised to enter a correct Order ID. I had. I was concerned about a notation next to the space for making that entry, one that cautioned that this ID could only be used once. Eventually, through their support, I discovered that I had previously logged in with a different email address. When I used Facebook to log in I discovered that my three beacons were already registered to me. kontakt_panel800 Selecting the pencil icon next to any beacon opens a new screen where settings including URL may be changed and saved. Initially, nothing I did caused any of the beacons to appear in my Physical Web app with new URLs. The default Kontakt URL stubbornly held the ground. Finally, I realized that I had to "syncronize" the settings using the app available through the app store. One hopefully helpful note: entering "Kontakt" into Google Play brings up nothing useful. You need to use "Kontakt.io" to get what you need. My experience with Kontakt has been somewhat frustrating. Most recently I entered the settings for one of the three beacons, and finding that the URL set was not one I assigned, tried to change it. After entering a goo.gl shortened URL I selected "Apply Configuration". I was told we were syncing with the Kontakt cloud, the text went from grey to black, signalling an end to the process - but the URL that appeared was an older goo.gl, one that when I first looked had defaulted back to a Kontakt URL. I was eventually successful in adding my Facebook profile, shortened in goo.gl, but it was neither straightforward nor quick. Summary Both kits provide the opportunity to test the hardware and associated apps and dashboards. Both make possible organizing a demo and for prospects of yours who do not have a secure website, it is not the fault of either kit maker that the mobile Chrome browser won't discover them. The Physical Web app will but eventually you'd have to have the conversation about securing the site in order to make discovery more mainstream. At this point I'm leaning toward BKONConnect's solution, having found their dashboard friendliest of the three. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Hands-on with Eddystone-URL

I don’t recall the first time I saw a website address, but I do recall where I first saw an icon describing the Physical Web. Physical Web Logo It was displayed on a glass door on the front of a restaurant – in a video telling the story of how the physical world and the digital world are being linked by something called the Eddystone BluetoothLE (BLE) beacon. Beacons A beacon is a small device built to emit a bluetooth radio signal repeatedly, like a lighthouse beam. The LE part refers to low energy, the secret strength of the technology, because it allows battery-powered beacons to operate for practical periods of time, from many months to several years. Your smart device is the target of these radio signals and until recently, you had to have installed an app that understood the beacon’s specific message to close the loop. Eddystone Beacons In the summer of 2015 Google changed all that by creating an open source, cross platform approach that gives beacons the ability to broadcast simple web URLs. What receives those broadcasts depends for the short term on your device type (iOS or Android) and your browser of choice. IOS users can receive URL broadcasts on the Chrome for iOS browser. Android users have a few choices, from the latest version of the Opera browser to an app called the Physical Web and soon to include the Chrome for Android browser. And incidentally, Eddystone is the name of a famous lighthouse in the British Isles. What to Expect I was hooked on the promise of beacons long before I handled one, and being hands-on has only deepened my sense that this is life-changing stuff. From advertising an apartment for rent to delivering audible information and directions to the visually impaired the Physical Web creates smart places and smart things. Importantly, it delivers only what we ask for, no buzzing in your pocket or opening an app on your phone. When you enter an area where the Physical Web has content available you might pull down your notification screen to explore it – or not. The choice is always yours. In some places you might see a list of website addresses with a bit of descriptive text, looking like this: PhysicalWebScreen This approach doesn’t spell the end of app development. Rather it provides a practical alternative for the many things we would welcome access to without having to install an app we might use only rarely. And I’m living proof that you don’t have to be a developer to create your own content, and change it at will. I have a small collection of Eddystone beacons, purchased in the fall of 2015. It took some trial and error but I have programmed URLs, one per beacon is the current limit, and then seen them broadcast to my Smartphone. This image shows two detected beacons with URLs I set for them: my_beacons_in_notification This screen appears in my Sony Xperia Z3 when I select a link in my Notifications screen, advising that there are beacons near me. At time of writing I have three beacons set with the Eddystone-URL frame type. These two were purchased direct from Sensoro in China. The third is one of three from Beaconstac in India, supplied by Sensoro. It remains programmed with its own url and I’ve been unable to alter it due to a settings problem I’m working on. My reason for describing the situation is that when I get notifications, they are always separate, one as above and the other linking only to the Beaconstac Eddystone unit. Clearly being hands-on means digging deeper. I don't know how often the advertising interval delivers a push to the Notifications screen or whether that is a parameter I am able to set. Many people are rightly concerned about security on their mobile devices, and so of course is Google. What you see in your notification screen is a proxy of the sites available. You are not linking directly to any of them. Only when you select one is your device connected to the web and to the specific site selected. beacon2phone2web-Chrome_with_proxy600 Beacon manufacturers and the developers who work with their hardware are aware of the threat of hackers discovering a way to “spoof” a beacon, hiding bad stuff under a reputable address and new versions of develop kits often include increased protections. While I’ve seen no guarantees that hacking is impossible, Google’s @ScottJenson, their man on the Eddystone file, seems pretty confident that security is tight. Use Case The scope of use cases already identified is remarkable and growing constantly. One that I’m evaluating is the creation of beacon networks. Imagine a grocer offering advertising on a beacon in the breakfast aisle or a liquor store selling beacon access to a wine brand, or a commercial neighbourhood “renting” beacon access to restaurants, stores and attractions. All any user needs is content behind a URL. Of course there will be large players, already are large players, assembling networks in shopping malls to name one growing area of commerce, but perhaps there’s a place for ingenious little guys too? Time will tell. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Beacons Bridge the Digital & Real Worlds

Twenty years ago I saw my first billboard displaying a World Wide Web address. Not surprisingly, I was in San Francisco. About 10 years later many of us were visiting that web from mobile devices without wired connections, often accompanied by a cup of coffee. Search got dramatically better when we were able to disclose our location to Google and to apps like Facebook and Foursquare, among others.

Mobile devices enabled with BluetoothLE radio transmitters can sense the proximity of devices called beacons, and receive a transmission from them. Putting aside the science for the moment, let’s explore the possibilities this creates – and they are extraordinary.

Proximity Targeting

At this time it is possible for something you carry to detect a signal from both stationary and moving objects equipped with the BluetoothLE radio transmitter, a tiny device requiring little power, and able to wake up an app, or simply offer a connection you may accept or ignore. Both approaches involve permission. In the case of the app, you gave it when you agreed to install it, although agreeing to provide your location may be a separate step. The alternative case involves choosing to see what is available around you. In this illustration, the transmitter offers a menu, each item on which was created by an individual who wants folks nearby to know something about him or his business.

beacon on the Physical Web

What can be done with the recognition of proximity is a dizzyingly broad canvas. You might put a transmitter on your dog’s collar and the information someone finding him would need to get him back to you up on a webpage. When a smart device gets close to the lost animal it can receive that web link, open it and mend your heartache. In other cases a visual trigger might cause you to look for content in your immediate surrounding. The image below demonstrates how something called “the Physical Web” is brought to our attention via the placement of a logo on a door, even the window of a car for sale. Currently, Android users would access whatever notification there is via the Chrome browser on their Smartphone. Apple users have that same choice and a couple more. An alternative approach is the creation of a zone, a proprietary solution in which beacons in effect map out a shopping street or mall. A beacon at the entrance to the zone explains the voyage. Subsequent beacons may offer content from specific shops and attractions. All of this location-relevant content comes via an app, created to support the zone. So, the Smartphone Chrome browser in one case, a dedicated app in the other.

PhysicalWebIcon_on_a_door600

Contextual Awareness

At another point on the spectrum the same recognition of proximity could navigate you through an airport, taking you to your gate and providing on-time information. It can assist vision-impaired individuals in crossing similar spaces with limited human intervention by triggering speech modules to provide information and direction. And in a retail store, it can not only identify that you are standing next to the TV wall, it can measure how long you’re immobile (dwell time) and decide that you might be interested in information about one or more of the products near you. It might even change the video playing on a screen to one offering features, price, warranty and so on. These examples introduce proximity’s twin – context awareness. When our device is understood to be near an object, event or thing, an app may make an assumption regarding what we might welcome, perhaps because we are stationary for a measurable period. If you’re stopped before a store display, you might receive a choice of items to learn more about. Typically, this kind of engagement comes from a “beacon-rich” environment, where the danger of “spamming” you is understood and where care is taken to provide relevant content, not just another push.

Can You Play Too?

There is no doubt that it will be businesses large and small, in segments including retail, healthcare, transportation, events, stadiums and attractions, that will dominate the disbursement of proximity beacons and the content they reveal. But no one is excluded from participating.  

This kit includes three beacons, an app for your Smartphone and an online dashboard to assist you in identifying each separate beacon and assigning it a task. If you know nothing about writing code you will still be able to assign content, thanks to the software provided, and what you assign will still be available to Smartphones with Chrome browsers active, and Bluetooth enabled. If you work from home you could broadcast an ad for your business to passersby. You could advertise a car or boat or camper for sale, or an apartment for rent. And of course you could lose-proof Fido with a specific version of the beacon known as a sticker, intended to be stuck to an object. Sticker starter kits are also available.

Resources

Starter Kits: Beaconstac Starter kit at USD$79 Estimote From USD$99 Sticker kit available BestBuyBeacons Starter Kit €99 Other options include purchasing just beacons and buying into a closed system solution for instructing and managing them. One example: Offerdrop Beacons from Estimote start at USD$30 each. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Micro Video Drone 3.0 – Tech at the Edge

 it is the new Micro Drone 3.0, a miniature HD video drone that has covered every conceivable angle. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, the MD3 streams HD video to your phone as it flies. It's capable of streaming live via Meerkat, to your Twitter followers, the video it shoots can be saved and edited, uploaded or linked wherever you choose. All of its parts snap together, are easily replaced and the body can actually be 3-D printed in a variety of looks, like the dragon, or the wasp. Oh yes, and it costs $150. Let's take a look at what it can do. Prepare to be amazed:

I hope you watched the video because it is literally awesome. But it doesn't tell the complete story. The MD3 has an optional gimbal which attaches to the bottom and provides perfect stability in flight. This means you get Hollywood-style results, dead level footage of the world below. It comes with three different props sizes to create three different levels of lift and speed. Along with the professional controller included in the price is an app download to turn your Smartphone into a controller. And another amazing extra turns your phone into a set of goggles that give you a first-person view as you fly, as if you were in the cockpit of the vehicle. In this video the company's young CEO demonstrates the (cardboard) goggles and describes the built-in stabilization that delivers viewable video without the sort of camera shake you would think inevitable from something flying in the wind. The maker claims the MD3 can fly in winds up to 45 miles per hour for six to eight minutes on a charged battery. Batteries are cheap and will charge in an hour.

This third generation of the product was crowdfunded, with a goal of $75,000. When last I looked the amount raised was nearing two million dollars. Winner? I'd say so.

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Your Business – Engagement Through Mobile

Regular Linkedin users are familiar with the invitation to publish a post. Different from an update, a post is an article, providing some original thinking or researched content. This first effort from yours truly takes a dive into the promise of beacon technology to change our everyday experiences of place. I'm delivering it to the blog via a Twitter function known as "copy link to Tweet", an option I only discovered recently and with which I'm quite taken. I hope you enjoy the read. I'd love to hear your thoughts - including corrections if I've made mistakes out of my so recent exposure to the subject. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

The Physical Web will Change Everything

When it comes to news, there's big and then there's really, really big and the #physicalweb is that kind of news. Take a device cheaper than a Smartphone cover and a website called phy.net and ANY business, no matter how small, can invite visitors and passers-by to look at targeted web content on a mobile device browser. Today it's working with Chrome on iOS devices. Soon it will just work everywhere. This video does an excellent job of making the parts and the promise understandable.

Naturally Google wants the developer community to get up to speed with the physical web and it has published content so directed, some of which is intelligible even to non-technical wanna-be's like myself. In an article on Google's github website we find these comments:

Once any smart device can have a web address, the overhead of a dedicated app is no longer required for simple interactions. The Physical Web approach unlocks use cases that would never be practical if a dedicated app were required:

  • A cat collar can let you call to find the owner
  • A bus can tell you its next stop
  • A parking meter can pay in the cloud
  • Any store, no matter how small, can offer an online experience when you walk in
  • A shared car service can broadcast a signup page, allowing you to immediately drive away
  • Industrial equipment can offer diagnostics
Another github article describes how simple it is to get started with the physical web:

"...all you need is a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon that supports Eddystone-URL and a website. Simply follow your specific beacon's instructions to configure the URL to your website, place the beacon and that's it: you're now part of the Physical Web!"  That sounds like something a great many of us could do or have done for us very inexpensively. We'll stay on top of developments in this space and keep you updated on the blog and on Twitter.

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Bluetooth Beacons Have Us Surrounded

Some years back Apple introduced a two-way radio called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to its Smartphones. More accurate than GPS, particularly indoors, Bluetooth is a game changer in many sectors, most immediately in retail stores. With what does it communicate? That's where Bluetooth beacons, and more recently stickers come into play. But before we go any further let's use another game changing communications tool to set the stage.

The video demonstrates how beacon technology has already begun to change our interactions with bricks and mortar environments. So let's get clear on what moving parts make possible what we just saw. First you need a device with Bluetooth aboard AND turned on. Then you need to install an app friendly to the specific beacon environment you've entered. Finally, to get the full effect, you need to give the app permission to track your location. Some information will be available if you do not but you aren't going to get size, price and availability on the garment you just picked up if the app doesn't know you're next to it. Like email today, this is permission push marketing. And like email, how much to push is a concern.

 Let's say this beacon is near a large flat screen television. There is good information available about the television but if the visitor starts moving again in three or four seconds have they shown enough interest to justify pinging their phone and delivering TV-related content?

When I saw some of the numbers attached to beacon uptake I wished I'd known enough two years ago to look at investment opportunities. This chart from sweetiq.com presents a ten-fold increase in the number of retailers using beacon technology - over just three years!

retail beacon uptake

Retailers are Jumping on Bluetooth beacon proximity marketing

Estimote stickersThe beacons we've seen so far are about the size of a hockey puck. But beacon maker Estimote also has a line of what they call "stickers". Stickers can turn things into "nearables" - smart objects fully detectable by your mobile device, one suggestion that stopped me in my tracks being - your dog. That's right. It's conceivable that a lost pet could tell its story to anyone with the right app on their phone. That beats the heck out of a chip under the skin in my book.  The Estimote website is well worth a few moments, as it tells a complete, well-illustrated story of both beacon formats, including pricing for developers interested in becoming familiar with and ultimately being able to build solutions around the hardware. And the market for what beacons and stickers can do is there.

  • 1 in 3 shoppers would rather find information using their smartphone than ask a store employee, and for electronics and appliances that number is closer to 1 in 2.
  • Over 40% of shoppers look for offers on their mobile devices while they’re in store
Beacon maker Estimote claims a global network of 45,000 developers, and growing. You probably aren't one of them. I know I'm not. But if you're itching to play with your own beacon (a 3-pack sells for USD$99) there is apparently an app-making tool for iOS that allows non-developers to create apps without a line of code. More about it here. There is more information available at bluetooth.com, including a list of devices currently Bluetooth-enabled. I was pleased to see my Sony Xperia on that list.   For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Engage Prospects with Animated Video Storytelling

Telling the story of your business, product or service in a whiteboard animation has proven to outperform talking head formats, largely because it's hard not to watch and easy to recall. It is also surprisingly affordable. Take two minutes to watch our demo. If you agree that animated video storytelling is unusually engaging, let's talk about telling your story. Go ahead and play it full-screen. When you're done you will find some useful detail under the player screen:

The majority of our custom whiteboard animated video projects are made from a few standard ingredients:
  • Script
  • Sound file of narrated script
  • Background music and sound effects (ours, and both optional)
  • Client-supplied logos, images and copy - i.e. address, website, email, etc.
Pricing is largely the product of time invested. If we write the script that adds time. If we record the script versus having you send an audio file, that adds time. That said, a typical two-minute piece, similar to the one you just watched, will seldom exceed $300-$350. (And yes, it is possible to pay as little as $200.) That's a lot of performance for the price. Everything is accomplished with email, the web, a Dropbox account (ours) with a link sent to you (to download your finished video file) and occasionally a WebEx meeting or Skype session. We use WebEx and send you an invitation to join a meeting, if and when necessary - which is a rare occurance. What Do You Do With the Finished Piece?
  1. Something called embed code is provided for you to paste into blog  posts (as above), into web pages, and elsewhere. We'll talk more about that when we talk.
  2. A file in MP4 format which you may upload to your Facebook page, to YouTube. Again we can discuss further options.
To start a conversation, use the comments area below or email David@FaceliftMarketing.ca For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Online Photo Editing – No Registration, No Cost

There are many ways to manipulate photos today, programs and apps and websites with tools to add text, effects, frames and on and on. For those who don't often want or need a deeply featured tool, ipiccy.com might be the handy answer. We're running a simple Facebook promo, asking fans to upload a picture of themselves and optionally, include birthday wishes over top. A good solution involves an online photo editing tool. We're linking to ipiccy.com for those who want to get artsy and the image that follows is a simple set of directions for getting a simple result. Beyond what we describe, there are font and point size choices, picture and frame effects, enough fun stuff to keep a newbie playing about for a good while. ipiccy_how-to The tool gives you the choice of saving to your computer or posting direct to Facebook. It is possible to provide a path for fans to post directly to a Facebook page photo album but unless you're a developer you'll need to hire one to make that happen. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Musk Explains the Tesla Powerwall

Elon Musk doesn't run stuff up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes. When he announces a new product he knows exactly how it will perform and what it will accomplish. In an 18-minute presentation, he lays out a path to literally saving the planet from where the hydrocarbon curve is going. The product line starts with a $3,500 battery you hang on the wall and progresses to infinitely scalable installations capable of powering cities.
Thanks to what he calls the "handy fusion reactor in the sky" and today's solar panel and battery technology he makes the case for the real possibility of replacing all fossil fuel energy generation with batteries storing sunlight. Musk isn't known for his social skills but in this presentation he appears as himself, casual, relaxed, bantering with the audience. But what he presents has been carefully crafted to deflect common criticisms before they get started, to simplify gigantic numbers and then to demonstrate that he's not talking about a concept, rather a reality proven by the fact that the entire presentation space is running on his batteries. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Tool Tips for Online Marketing

I consider myself a fairly normal participant in social media marketing. In part that means spending a large chunk of my time reading other marketer's content, searching for tools, tips and tricks to increase my worth and improve my results. Today I will take time off of taking and give back, with a short list of apps and tools that make my work easier and my time more productive - tool tips for online marketing.
  1. Buffer - this app's key strength is its ability to schedule your tweets and posts. Using the free version you must choose a single network, and Twitter works best for me. If I write a tweet at 6:30 in the morning I know it's not prime time for sending it into the world. Buffer allows me to select a time, to the minute, and the date. Given the speed of the Twitter feed, posting the same content more than once makes good sense. Make a slight change in the subsequent versions and schedule them over the following few days. Using Twitter's analytics you'll discover in time what works best for you.
Desctop screenshot 2.  Awesome Screen Shot - is the tool I often use to create images like the one above. Like Buffer I reach it via a button in the Chrome browser, and I should make clear that you need to add these apps to your browser before the buttons of which I speak appear. Some install in multiple browsers. Some have favourites. awesome_screen_shotI've chosen Chrome for all of my app button installations. The image at left is the drop down that appears when I click the Awesome Screen Shot button. I get most use of the "capture selected area" but as you can see there are a number of other options. When you've made your selection by drawing a rectangle around the chosen material, you are offered the choice of cancelling or capturing. When you choose capture a new tab opens and your selection appears with a tool bar above giving you access to text, arrows, underscores etc. When you're "Done", a new tab opens with options that include "save" to your hard drive. I don't think I've used any others. Here is an example of a capture, marked up with some of the tools available. ASS_Demo_image 3. Bitlink - is a very useful tool if you frequently add links to content. Yes, it shortens any URL, which in itself is often useful, (think 140 characters) but it also makes the resulting bit.ly trackable so by accessing your account you can view the number of times your link was clicked. The idea is to select bitlink when you're on a page you want to link to in a tweet, post, blog or pin, to name a few. Here is what appears when you click your bitlink button: bitlink Select "Copy Bitlink" and paste away. Note that you can try to create a custom link by adding your choice of descriptor. My attempts have all returned the response that the choice already exists. Here you'll find the directions to easily install the bitlink to your Chrome toolbar. If you don't use Chrome there's a second choice, to simply drag a button to your browser toolbar. Tools I hope you find these apps as useful as I do every day. If you'd like to know about the tools I can't live without let me know in the comments section. If you have anything to say or ask about this post, why not join the conversation on my Twitter or Facebook site. For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Live Streaming Video – Me Reporting from Here

Meerkat was first but Periscope offers replay. If you aren't caught up, allow me to explain. Meerkat (for iPhone for a while yet) is an app that makes live streaming video possible from your phone to a wide audience. It's getting huge buzz, and another 14 million in backing recently, but the knock is that so many streams are dead and done by the time you get a notice. Periscope (a Twitter buy for about $100 million, and also iPhone-only for now) archives streams so they can be viewed after the live aspect is history. What both of them mean at the top level is that anyone can be a broadcast journalist, covering breaking news, or an infant's first steps, or you name it. And you can be dead certain that live porn and live cat videos will be everywhere. twoLiveStreamers   It wasn't many months ago that social media blogs and research reports were touting 2015 as the year of online video. This pretty much guarantees it. Everything we've been able to do with still images can now be done with video. "Here I am making the amazing dish I'm going to upload to Instagram." "Here I am at the gourmet grocery where I buy the ingredients for the amazing dish I'm going...". You know? Read more... For more coverage of Inbound and Social Media Marketing visit our Twitter and Facebook sites and sign up for the Friday Digest of breaking news on all things social, mobile and video. For a sample Digest, click here.

Making Good, Affordable Video & Audio

I'm linking here a post I wrote on my website video blog suggesting that a video photo booth is now a relatively simple and inexpensive option for creating social media video content on premises. The larger story is that creating any video content of good quality, and importantly, with good audio, has become extremely cost effective. Folks already interested in making video are likely to know something about the series of goPro wearable cameras that made a billionaire of their inventor. Originally gobbled up by extreme sports participants, their use has spread far beyond thanks to the portability, versatility and video quality. Attached to a drone, a helmet, a car, boat, worn underwater the goPro is a game changer. I was looking for a solution to the ok but not ok enough native audio quality from the camera and came upon a video that clearly demonstrates one path to accomplishing the goal. It might even make you want to go out and buy the gear, or at least check out the affordability given the quality. There are tons of video samples from goPro shoots on YouTube if you want an idea of just how amazing the product is. Here is the video I found. Before you view it I should mention that neither the mount or the mic demonstrated are the only options available. I have an "L" bracket for my tripod on which I mount a shotgun mic and it would serve equally well in this configuration, as would my shotgun, or any of a number available.

Sergey Brin on Google Glass at TED

The Google Glass project is taking centre stage as politicians express privacy concerns around a device that has the potential to capture everything the wearer sees and hears and upload it to the cloud.  Google co-founder Sergey Brin has another agenda in front of a TED audience, demonstrating how the Glass is the evolution of the smartphone - looking out rather than down, seeing the important messages rather than trolling through all of them and doing it with your hands free. It's a compelling vision - but you can decide for yourself whether it's a future you're interested in:

Mobile Bar Codes Explained:

We are all familiar with the rectangular bar codes that appear on virtually any and all products. They are called one-dimensional because data, in this case a series of numbers, runs from left to right. The new face of mobile bar codes, called QR (quick response) codes are two-dimensional, across and down, offering much more opportunity for data to be stored within its borders. [Read more...]
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